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Covid-19 should make us change our politics

By Andrew Kipkemboi | April 13th 2020 at 08:51:48 GMT +0300

On the day Europe’s finance ministers welcomed a $470 billion (Sh49.8 trillion) rescue package for workers, businesses and governments, former PM Raila Odinga was proclaiming on Citizen Radio that Covid-19 would not “stop reggae” as he readied the country for a referendum on BBI proposals.

That same day, the US Congress was putting the final touches on a further $2.3 trillion (Sh243.5 trillion) to prop up the US economy - cushion workers, the vulnerable and halt the collapse of American firms.

It was also the day when renowned economist David Ndii and his former NASA colleagues were engaged in an ugly Twitter brawl over the appointment of Peter Gathenge as the NHIF boss.

The day before, across town, Deputy President William Ruto came out of a self-imposed quarantine to assure a restive country that they (never mind who that implies) were working on something. Only the incurable optimists will take his (and his government’s) word for it.

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We couldn’t help but notice Raila’s awkwardness after seemingly approving flights from China soon after the pandemic outbreak, and that he seemed less inclined to question Jubilee’s appalling handling of the outbreak.

One would have expected Raila, a front-runner for the presidency in 2022, to exclaim: "We told you so".

Instead, those who question his reluctance to offer a viable alternative to the fumbling, divided and ineffectual Jubilee are quickly taken down by cyber warriors. The justification for the poor show is that Raila has fought hard and that it is time for somebody to hold the feet of the government to the fire.

No one should begrudge Raila’s friendship-with-benefits with Jubilee. Sadly, that represents the poor thinking that separates the Europeans, Chinese and Americans from us, where the people see no evil and hear no evil.

We can’t excuse Raila’s apparent insouciance nor close our eyes to Jubilee’s numerous inadequacies. The squabble between Dr Ndii and the NASA brigade represents the worst form of Not In My Backyard syndrome.

No one is questioning whether Dr Gathenge is qualified for the job. The devil is in the other details, like his tribe or the tribe of the chairman of the board; or whether the person who acted was a Luo. 

Yet, that is the chaff the leadership throws up every time to confuse the masses.

We should not get lost in that either. Nor should we cheer at the feeling of 'utter helplessness' by legislators posting how they drove themselves to work because their guards and drivers were working from home.

In fact, we should repudiate the thought that the virus has equalised society. Though exciting that the politicians have nowhere to run; that we will all die here, we should be careful not to get carried away.

What Covid-19 has taught us is that the sociopolitical and economic fundamentals aren’t as sound as we have been made to believe. When Health CS Mutahi Kagwe talks, he so well knows that public health and public hospitals are a sham.

When the National Treasury explains how the scourge is hollowing out the economy, one shudders at the level of unpreparedness and the folly of living hand-to-mouth; the reason the lockdown is a hard pill to swallow. How will we feed the masses?

The county governor having more chase cars than the number of ICU beds is symptomatic of failed leadership.

Covid-19 offers us an opportunity of a lifetime to uproot bad leadership.

It is time to change the architecture of our politics. We have to do better at choosing the rules that govern us. Covid-19 should prompt us to ask whether we get value for our taxes and if, not whether, we have the right people at the right places.

No one expects the rise of a wave of populist backlash – the kind that swept across the world delivering ballot box shockers from America and Europe to Hong Kong.

We are still far off the road.

Dissatisfaction and frustration isn’t as widespread, despite the people being enfeebled, left behind and poorer.

Covid-19 should provide the much-needed turning point. It offers us a moment of renewal.

Let’s end the long-lingering feeling that key decisions must be taken by well-connected insiders at the expense of the majority.

Let’s now realise that a lot of our politicians preoccupy themselves with sharing the spoils of power and rarely do they care to govern. Now the voters should show who is boss.

Mr Kipkemboi is The Standard’s Associate Editor for Partnerships and Projects. [email protected]

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